Wednesday 17 January 2018

Behind the scenes at the Hotlympics

Brazil's Maria Elisa takes part in a
practice session for the women's
beach volleyball competition at the
London Olympic Games.
Brazil's Maria Elisa takes part in a practice session for the women's beach volleyball competition at the London Olympic Games.

THERE are generally two reasons why strangers have sex with one another: to celebrate or commiserate. Triumphant sex versus consolation sex. And the more extreme a person’s mindset, the more likely they are to seek either jubilation or salvation in the arms of another.

From next week there will be a daily division of 100,000 young people who will fall into one or the other of these two camps.

Hence the 15 condoms per athlete handed out in the Olympic Village (that’s 150,000 – 50pc more than at the Beijing Games, if you’re counting).

Although it would be fascinating to see the genetic combinations that might arise from the coupling of a 7ft basketball player and a Chinese gymnast, say, or an Azerbaijani weightlifter and a British synchronised swimmer, we must applaud the authorities for accepting the inevitability of such spontaneous relationships and providing the necessary facilities. Because there is no point denying it: the Olympics morph into one almighty bonkathon.

As American footballer Hope Solo has confessed: "There’s just a lot of sex going on at the Olympics." Part of the reason is that the Olympic Village rivals the White House for ease of access. It doesn’t matter if you’re Victoria Pendleton or Usain Bolt – if your partner’s name is not down, they’re not getting in. It’s irrelevant that they’ve supported your ungrateful ass over the past four years: wives, girlfriends, husbands and boyfriends are left outside to peer through the metal fence, praying that you’re not sharing the salad bar with the beach volleyball girls or the men’s coxless fours.

American swimmer Summer Sanders, a four-time Olympic medallist, summed it up: "What happens in the Village stays in the Village."

The code of loyalty amid the lock-down rivals even the most debauched stag party.

Triple-jump champion Jonathan Edwards (when he was a younger, more stressed-out version than the lovely man he is today) broke that particular omerta after the 2000 Sydney Olympics by grassing up one particular set of athletes: "The swimmers are awful. They finish their competition and stay in the Village and party for the rest of the Games," he said.

"Ninety percent of them can't win medals; they are there to have fun."

He was right -- but I'm allowed to say that as I used to be one.

Not an Olympian, of course -- I was lacking in all the necessary areas -- but a swimmer. I trained, competed and lived with them long enough to know exactly what Edwards meant.

Swimming is one of the few sports in which boys and girls train and race together. Those boys and girls grow up to be men and women who have spent a disproportionate amount of their time in close proximity wearing swimsuits. Near-nudity is the norm.

Most swimmers learn the facts of life during a game of Truth and Dare on the back seat of the coaches travelling to regional galas. The heady mix of pre-or post-race adrenalin and the privacy afforded by holding a coat over your head has -- for years -- allowed many swimmers formative sexual dalliances that culminate in an Olympic shagfest a decade later.

Plus, they're endurance athletes: the pitiful ones who spend hours punishing their bodies with boring, repetitive regimes that allow little time to glimpse the outside world.

Rowers and cyclists are the same. It can't be a coincidence that the party-hardiest are the hardest trainers.

These are the most monastic, abstemious sufferers who have the most tension to release.

Traditionally, the best post-Games party is hosted by Sports Illustrated magazine. In Athens in 2004, as vodka was drunk off ice sculptures, synchronised swimmers performed in the lighted outdoor pool, the rooms rocked with the broad shoulders and thighs of the competitors.

All major sponsors and some renegade ex-swimmers will host fabulous, glamorous nights throughout the Olympics to entertain the stars because, of course, the virile, beautiful bodies may reside in the Village, but the booze does not.

If you win gold, your federation may choose to deliver a bottle of champagne to your room. But that won't go far among a thirsty team of 40. Tales abound of athletes smuggling bottles into their accommodation, but alcohol certainly isn't sold on the premises.

Alcohol, permission (finally!) to party, plus a competitive crowd results in world-class drinking games.

A traditional favourite is "The Century Club" -- 100 shots of beer in 100 minutes.

Remember this is a group who don't like to lose at anything.

Twelve years after Sydney, the swimmers are obviously completely different. They are now a slick, professional, well coached outfit with a host of serious medals contenders.

But they'll still be the best on the dance floor.

I would, however, like to offer a morality tale to their partners and those of the other competitors.

At the Athens Olympics, I faked a piece of accreditation to sneak myself into the Village.

With a bit of clever laminating and with the help of my husband James Cracknell "accidentally" dropping his gold medal to cause a diversion, I got past the guards.

The highlight was a damned good nosey around as many Big Macs as I could eat.

The low point: being taken back to James's room.

He'd been sharing a small twin room with crew-mate Ed Coode for almost two weeks in a hot country.

I'll never forget the smell, half eaten bananas, split sports drinks and dried-out sweaty kits. I recoiled in horror.

James could fill his condoms with water and throw them of the balcony for all I cared.

I was not getting jiggy on a single bed in a student-hovel.

So, partners, don't lament your outsider status.

Let your competitive-other halves have a merry old time and, if they come back to you, they were meant to.

Otherwise, head for London's many Olympic parties and bag yourself one of their rivals.

Irish Independent

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